Steamboat Springs With one lap to go in the U.S. Nordic Combined Championships it looked like Steamboat Springs native Bryan Fletcher was closing in on his first U.S. national title.
Fletcher won the Nordic combined jumping competition with an effort of 73 meters, giving him a 26-second advantage in the cross-country portion of Sunday’s championships at the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove, Ill., on Saturday.
“He went out strong and was adding time for his first three laps,” U.S. Nordic combined coach Dave Jarrett said. “But he started fading in the last lap, and Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane were still chasing. I thought he might break them, but he just didn’t have enough.”
The two Olympic veterans quickly erased Fletcher’s lead, and with less than 200 meters to the finish line the national title came down to a sprint.
“I think I went too hard too early in the race,” Fletcher said. “Once they caught me I didn’t have a lot left in the tank. I just wanted to hold on and make sure that I finished on the podium.”
Demong edged Spillane to the finish line with a time of 26 minutes, 16 seconds. Fletcher was just three seconds back in third with a time of 26:19. It was Demong’s eighth national title.
Todd Lodwick came in fourth at 26:49, and Erik Lynch placed fifth with a time of 26:59.
“I had aspirations to win, but there’s really tight competition with about six or seven of us right now. It was anybody’s game to win, “ Demong said in a U.S. Ski Team news release. “Now I need to have a good quality buildup into the season to start strong on the World Cup.”
Spillane said the team has been working hard but there is still a lot to do on the jump before winter arrives. However, he said the team is headed in the right direction.
“Everybody is in a pretty good place right now,” he said. “Sure there is work to do, but we all seem to be moving in a pretty good direction.”
Demong’s title was just one of three awarded Saturday at Fox River Grove, which is located just outside of Chicago.
Anders Johnson of Park City, Utah, collected the normal hill special jumping title with jumps of 74.5 and 75.5 meters. He topped New Hampshire’s Nick Fairall, who was second, and Demong, who was third, in the two-jump event.
Sarah Hendrickson, of Park City, Utah, collected the women’s title with jumps of 68.5 and 73 meters. She beat out teammates Alissa Johnson and Jessica Jerome, who finished second and third, respectively.
This was the first time in recent memory that the national championships have been hosted by the Norge Ski Club, which is one of the oldest clubs in the United States. This is the fourth year that the U.S. National Championships have been held in the summer using plastic-covered surfaces on the jump hills and roller skis on the cross-country course.
Peter Frenette won the men’s large hill title in July. Jerome took the women’s large hill title at that time. Those events were held in Park City because Fox River Grove has only a K70 jump.
— To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com